History & enthusiasm

image001David Williams in the churchyard of St Anne’s Church in Soho, alongside a plaque for his namesake, the founder of The Royal Literary Fund

In the second of two articles by former local resident David Williams, the journalist-turned-tour guide and lecturer explains why he often returns to the area – as he is doing this month – to give talks to local groups.

I am not a genealogist but my interest in social and oral history has intrigued me for the past 15 years. After retiring from a career in print journalism and the film and television industry, I was keen to find something which would occupy my time. A casual search on the City of London Corporation website revealed they were inviting applications from people to become tour guides and lecturers. That was for me!

After qualifying as a guide in 2005, I went on a number of short courses about various aspects of London’s rich heritage. So, it was on to Birkbeck, University of London, to complete four years of part-time study in the evenings to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. The journey continued by spending two years distance learning to get a Master’s degree in Sport History and Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, and finally, a second Master’s degree in Heritage Studies at the University of East London.

At school, history was all about kings and queens, politicians, dates of battles won and lost, the Empire, rebellions… and so the list goes on. Do I get an extra mark if I remember the date of the Battle of Waterloo? I passed the subject at GCE O level but that was all. Yet, here I am, almost 60 years later, living and breathing history, going around the Home Counties talking about London, its people, heritage, status, social development, influence and reputation over many centuries. I am fortunate to meet so many people who share my enthusiasm.

Without doubt, my journalistic background, including a year-long period as a cub reporter on the Woodford Times, has sharpened my instincts for investigation and research and confirmed a long-held theory that everyone has something to contribute to the social mix of how we live our lives now, in the recent past, and even long after people have gone to meet the grim reaper!

My talk this month is entitled Pounds, Shillings and Poverty and will explore London in the 19th century, which was an age of invention, mechanisation, railway building and urbanisation. Fortunes were made – and lost. Squalid living conditions added to the misery of those who also struggled against disease and rising crime. But there were also those who devoted their lives to improving the working and social conditions.

Whether I am giving an illustrated historical presentation on a cruise ship or talking to a small group in a village hall, the message, whatever the theme, is that London has a rich vein of history, good and bad. It’s always worth talking about.

David will be giving a talk for the East of London Family History Society at Wanstead Library on 22 January from 7.30pm (visitors: £1.50; call 020 8554 8414). For more information on David’s guided walks and talks, visit londonfootsteps.co.uk
Author: Editor